A Suffolk Superior Court Judge said yesterday that evidence in Archdiocese of Boston records contradicts Cardinal Bernard F. Law’s sworn testimony that he and his aides did not return some abusive priests to parish work without first determining that they posed no risk to children.
Judge Constance M. Sweeney wrote that, contrary to Law’s testimony, the records show that some priests who had molested children were given new parish assignments even though church officials had reason to believe the priests were continuing to abuse children.
The church records, Sweeney wrote, “raise significant questions of whether the archdiocese was really exercising the care they claimed to use in assigning priests.”
In a separate ruling, Sweeney curtly denied a motion by archdiocesan lawyers to keep out of public view 11,000 pages of church documents turned over last Friday to attorneys representing alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Sweeney said the church motion, improperly filed after the court closed last Friday, appeared to be part of a deliberate attempt to sidestep her orders that the documents be made public. She decried the tactic as “an increasingly dreary effort” by church lawyers to slow or limit the production of documents.
“The court simply will not be toyed with,” she warned, noting that the church’s lawyers were already facing possible sanctions or a contempt finding.
Her ruling, unless it is overturned on appeal, means that potentially damaging information on scores of priests can be made public by attorneys for three men who claim in civil lawsuits that the Rev. Paul R. Shanley sexually abused them during the late 1980s. Shanley is in jail, awaiting trial on criminal charges of rape of a child.
Mark Rogers, one of the cardinal’s attorneys, said last night that he could not comment on Sweeney’s two rulings. Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, also said she could not comment.
It could not be determined last night whether church lawyers will appeal Sweeney’s ruling on the document release.
Sweeney’s comments about Law’s credibility were in a written opinion clearing the way for lawyers for the alleged Shanley victims to obtain the psychiatric files of the Rev. Bernard J. Lane, another priest who has been accused of having multiple abuse victims.
In her ruling, Sweeney found that Lane lied in a sworn affidavit in which he said his files should be considered privileged because he had never authorized his doctors to release them.
Sweeney noted substantial evidence that Lane authorized psychiatrists to share their findings about him with the archdiocese: “The court finds that Reverend Lane’s assertions of privilege in his sworn affidavit are false and he knew they were false at the time he signed the affidavit.”
Sweeney’s ruling is important because it suggests that at trial she will allow attorneys for alleged sexual abuse victims to introduce evidence that the archdiocese had a practice of permitting sexual predators to return to ministry without appropriate supervision.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for the alleged Shanley victims, said Sweeney’s ruling suggests that there are significant questions whether the church exercised proper judgment in dealing with abusive priests.
Among the 11,000 pages, MacLeish said, there are “significant documents” that may lead Sweeney to revisit the cardinal’s assertion that he exercised due care.
In her comments about Law’s testimony, Sweeney focused on the contradictions between Law’s testimony and the evidence in the church documents. Four days of Law’s depositions in the Shanley case were made public last week.
“The actual discovery material before the court includes statements from Cardinal Law that between 1984 and 1989 some offending priests were returned to active ministry when, after treatment, archdiocesan personnel and the Cardinal determined they did not present risks of harm to children,” the judge wrote.
She continued: “Despite this assertion, other archdiocesan records obtained through discovery reveal that some offending priests may well have been assigned to parishes, youth groups and the like, even though the cardinal or other archdiocesan personnel knew that the priests in question were at the least suspected of engaging in continuing sexual encounters with children.”
Lane himself, she noted, was allowed to serve at a Natick parish in the late 1990s, even though church officials knew he had a history of molesting adolescent boys during the 1970s, and had faced an allegation of child abuse as recently as 1997.
Sweeney also said the evidence suggests that sometimes the archdiocese reassigned priests to ministry after treatment even though doctors raised concerns that they might pose a risk.
The archdiocese, she said, had a practice of sending accused priests to institutions for treatment “and then following or choosing not to follow” the experts’ recommendations.
In Lane’s case, she wrote, he was treated at two institutions for his abuse of minors. Despite concerns expressed by one psychiatrist, she noted that Lane had a “meeting of reconciliation” with Law. After that, an official at the Institute of Living wrote to the archdiocese that Lane would “perform well in ministry in the future with no risk of compromising boundaries.”
Lane, she noted, faces at least eight claims of sexual abuse.
The alleged victims of Shanley, she wrote, have charged the priest with raping them “during the same period of time when the archdiocese claims to have had a procedure in place to protect children from exactly that type of violence.”
Shanley, she added, “went through the same type of evaluation process at the same institutions at approximately the same time Father Lane did.”